Discover more from Ab Ovo
Ab Ovo #27: 'Make Drinks, Not War'
How do we talk about drinks when the cocktail of the moment is Molotov?
Two weeks ago, I was all set to write about peace.
That Friday marked the 50th anniversary of the “toast to peace” between Chinese Communist Party Chairman Mao Zedong and U.S. President Richard Nixon during the latter’s momentous 1972 trip to China. The toast marked a historic moment, one that re-established diplomatic ties between two estranged global powers and reshaped Cold War geopolitical conditions in a way that ultimately helped end America’s long and costly war in Vietnam. That the glasses raised that day were filled with California-made Schramsburg blanc de blancs — a wine that every presidential administration since has served at U.S. state functions — makes for a neat little wine story, and it’s one we’ll perhaps revisit here at some point.
But that particular Friday didn’t turn out to be the right time to celebrate triumphs of diplomacy. The weeks since haven’t shaped up any better.
Prior to making a career out of extolling the virtues of Ranch Water and railing against the injustices of the three-tier system, I was a science, technology, and national security writer for outlets like Popular Science, Fortune, and CNBC. In that role I had the privilege of visiting Moscow and St. Petersburg multiple times for various tech industry gatherings. I spent time in that part of the world once or twice annually starting in 2013, which eventually — inevitably, really — led me to visit Kyiv twice in 2018, first as a speaker at a technology conference and later of my own accord. Having experienced Kyiv once, I had to return. I know a great global center of hospitality and culture when I see one, even if the lifestyle magazines, influencers, and network travel shows haven’t anointed it such.
I’m reluctant to write about all this now, as I have no desire to place myself and my experiences at the center of someone else’s tragedy, or otherwise to make this all about me. But I wanted to scribble something short to explain why I haven’t been publishing here these past few weeks. Like many, I’ve been glued to social media and the 24-hour cable news coverage feeling — sometimes alternately, sometimes all at once — gutted, helpless, and enraged. In this context, cocktails and terroir seem pretty trivial.
Still, nothing happens in a vacuum, and both Ukraine’s hospitality sector and the global drinks industry have played their own ancillary roles in this unfolding catastrophe. By this point you’ve almost certainly already heard about the various not-so-effective boycotts of Russian-sounding spirits brands. The vodka always known as “Stoli” has now officially changed its name to “Stoli.” Economic sanctions leveled on Russia are roiling the global wine and spirits industries, sending exporters from Champagne to Jalisco scrambling. Ukrainian breweries have turned their bottle inventories into makeshift bombs. Bars and restaurants across the embattled country have put their kitchens to work feeding civilians, hospital workers, and Ukrainian defense forces. And because several restaurants, bars, and clubs in Kyiv inhabit decommissioned Soviet-era underground bomb shelters, many now house civilians fleeing Russian bombardment.
One of those is Parovoz SpeakEasy, arguably Kyiv’s most renowned cocktail bar. According to Dima Shovkoplias, the bar manager at Paravoz SpeakEasy, Kyiv’s bartenders have largely turned their supplies of glass bottles and bar rags to Molotov cocktails. A plea for support posted to Parovoz’s Instagram just hours after Russian missiles first began striking Ukraine on February 24 closed with the words “MAKE DRINKS, NOT WAR.” It seems events in the intervening weeks have forced even Kyiv’s most hospitable toward the latter.
Callous as it may sound, we all have to keep our feet moving amid the madness, and I’ll be back next week with a more-typical, less-depressing slate of unsolicited industry hot takes and product reviews. Meantime, give if you can, tell the truth, and keep your people close.
Ab Ovo is a (somewhat) weekly newsletter produced by Clay Dillow (CD) and friends. If you enjoy our work, we’d love to have you as a subscriber (it’s free!). If you already subscribe, we appreciate the support — and don’t forget to forward this to a friend. Thanks for reading.
What We’re Drinking: Hendrick’s Neptunia Gin
To say that one enjoys Hendrick’s Gin is not particularly controversial. It’s a bar staple for those who prefer a cucumber-forward gin and tonic, and while the brand cheekily emblazons its bottles with the disclaimer “IT IS NOT FOR EVERYONE” I can’t say I know a serious gin drinker who actively dislikes Scotland’s most recognizable gin. That Neptunia, the latest limited edition release crafted by Hendrick’s master distiller Lesley Gracie, is recognizably Scottish only compounds its appeal. To build Neptunia’s flavor profile, Gracie sought out coastal botanicals that evoked her best memories of time spent along the Ayrshire coast, where the waves break not far from the Hendrick’s distillery. The resulting gin swaps out the flagship gin’s green, cucumber top note for something that’s more sea spray and citrus, still well-suited for a 1:3 mix of gin and tonic and even better as the base for a fizzy highball. With the weather turning, it’s high time we tune our mindsets toward warmer weather and lapping ocean waves. Neptunia will help you get there. ($40)
Ukraine lost half of its wine industry when Russia annexed Crimea in 2014; Now the rest is in jeopardy • Ukraine’s Pravda brewery introduces ready-to-fling (RTF) bottled Molotov cocktail • Don’t worry about declaring captured Russian combat trophies on your taxes • How the internet has left its mark on terroir • Can the Court of Master Sommeliers restore its reputation? • Whiskey catches a case of fermentation fever • Newest behind-the-bar accessory in NYC: Overdose prevention kits